PHOENIX -- Using store associates as a resource for meal planning can be as effective as any menu, a retailer-panelist told seminar attendees here at the Food Marketing Institute's MealSolutions conference.
Conversely, without help, customers can be easily overwhelmed by the variety that is considered an edge for supermarket delis over other formats offering meals, said Linda Gassenheimer, executive director at Gardner's Markets, a four-unit independent in Miami. Gassenheimer was a panelist in a seminar on menu development at the Washington-based FMI event earlier this fall.
Gassenheimer said it is crucial to keep deli associates informed so they can answer questions and offer suggestions.
"On the way home from work, customers are tired and hungry, and easily confused. They want a no-brainer meal and they'll come back again if you make it easy for them in your deli," she said.
Since the most often asked questions are related to reheating the product and how to serve it, associates can be furnished with cue cards that will help them answer those questions, she said.
"At Gardner's, we have such information printed on the backs of product cards so the associates can read them. The cards in front of all the platters of food identify the product and list the ingredients. On the back of those cards, we've printed serving suggestions and directions on how to reheat the particular item.
"We can't expect the staff to remember all that information when we have 20 to 30 dishes in the case, but the cards enable them to answer the customer right away," Gassenheimer said.
She also suggested giving customers the price of a product by portion, not just by pound. "They want to know what it's going to cost, for example, for two portions," she said. She explained that it's difficult for a customer to determine how much of a particular product to buy when it's priced only by the pound.
In the deli self-service cases at Gardner's, meal components are offered in both microwavable and conventional oven packaging, and reheating instructions are put on the containers, Gassenheimer said.
Variety is a must in the meals solutions arena, she said. "Get beyond the standard pizza, chicken and Chinese food. Create theme menus and rotate items often. The idea should be to create an atmosphere that will make it fun for customers to see what they can buy from your deli for dinner," she said.